South Park Self

she's a footprint on the beach and the tide's coming in

I cling to my research pursuits by the skin of my teeth these days, cramming it into odd corners and for the large part watching with helpless regret as mental and physical fatigue torpedo what little footholds I can carve out. One of the upshots is that these days I go into the university library about twice a year, if that - not because I'm not researching at all, I am, but by and large research these days is done virtually rather than with hard-copy books, and such hard-copy books as are essential to my research interests are somewhat fringe and I tend to simply buy copies for myself. (Memo to self: Kindle. Because exploding bookshelves.) However, I am overdue by two months for 2000 words on the importance of Vladimir Propp to fairy tale criticism (because why pick a reasonably-sized topic, a sense of proportion is for the weak) and my copy of Morphology of the Folktale has vanished completely enough that I'm beginning to wonder if I hallucinated actually owning it, so on Friday I Braved The Library.

I should not, as a literature academic, be alienated by an academic library. Being alienated by a library is an alienating experience on a whole level above the library itself being alienating. They radically redesigned the space a couple of years ago, and moved things around, and ever since then I walk in and am immediately lost. It's a very beautifully appointed and glitzy space, and has added several zeroes onto the number of student study seats, but I realised today what the root of the change is: it's now a student-focused space, not an academic-focused space. I get lost because all the signposting is about where and how students can study, and which areas are for undergrads, and how you may use your cellphone. There are no guides at all to where you might find the actual books. The previous library layout gave clear, unequivocal maps by Dewey number, and the lack of those leaves me free-floating and slightly panicky, because on walking in, you can't actually see any books at all other than the few shelves of reference volumes in the front. I was rescued by a kindly library colleague (it's useful knowing all these people from university committees), and she commented that the head librarian is contemplating getting rid of large numbers of the books, based on what people are actually reading.

I don't want to sound like a Jurassic reactionary about this - this is the way things are going, information is increasingly virtual, and the shift to a focus on the student experience is an important and necessary address to the exclusionary elitism of academia's more traditional forms. And if I was a more consistent Academic, in the sense of using these facilities for more than about 5% of my job description, I would have got the alienation over in a few weeks and simply adapted to the new status quo, rather than spreading it out torturously over several years. But I mourn the old library, and the physicality of the experience when your wanderings among the shelves were done in the consciousness of the accreted weight of all those books. I used to read for fun in undergrad, mostly as a substitute for an actual social life: I remember randomly picking up fiction just because the name seemed significant, William Morris and Evelyn Waugh and Virginia Woolf and John Fowles and the weirder corners of Tolkien. I'm not sure I could still do that in the new space, or if the books would be there for me to stumble upon. It's all too goal-oriented now.

And I really, really mourn my lost sense of mastery of the space. I struggle with academic identity at the best of times; to be at sea in the quintessential academic space, to be unable to locate the texts which are central to my research identity, was actively eroding to a particular facet of my sense of self. It wasn't pleasant.

I have my dark suspicions as to whether or not the new library even generates L-space. I don't think .303 bookworms exist virtually, or if they do, we're all completely screwed. It's worrying, is all. My worry is indexed by the fact that my subject line is Doctor Who, more specifically "The Silence in the Library." Because of course it is.
I definitely am. It's not that the library doesn't use him any more, it does, he's just not up front and centre in the directions in any way that I find useful. Knowing that folklore is in the 390s is no earthly use if you have no idea where they've stashed the 390s.
I, too, would quite literally be lost without Dewey, as he was one of my ancestors. :)

Seriously, though, I have noticed this trend in libraries as well, even little town libraries. Gone are the tall stacks that surrounded me with books as an excited child stretching to reach upper shelves. Everything seems now to be built for those who need things sparkly, and for folk with short attention spans.
How inordinately cool to claim Dewey as an ancestor!

I can't really complain about the lack of giant stacks of books, I suppose I'm doing the same thing at home, moving to Kindle because I've run out not only of bookshelves, but of viable walls to put them against.
It's very very distressing to me to even contemplate a library without massive towers of BOOKSES.
Clearly am dinosaur. Also am at fault for not belonging to a library right now (trying to read actual books on my actual shelves already, to start with, and though our local library does have English books, does not have fantastically large selection, unamazingly enough).
Also see this, on the perniciousness of the "student experience" paradigm:
"First, universities are meant to be places for exploration and experimentation. The whole point is that students do it by, to and for themselves. The danger with universities’ new enthusiasm for managing the student experience is that it may restrict the potential for exploration and experimentation."
I'd completely agree that managing the student experience in that prescriptive sense is not what a university is for - but I think we've been historically bad at recognising the student experience, and making space for its different and frequently alienated perspective. I don't think that that article was particularly thoughtful, to be honest, it's conflating student experience with managerialism, and they're two separate things. There's an unpleasantly sink-or-swim ethos underlying his argument, a sort of "in my day we weren't coddled like this!" which wilfully disregards the cultural changes which have made the current generation of students, even in a first world context, materially different to previous generations.
Alas the move to virtual. I am old enough to prefer actual, physical books, even if a single volume copy of 'Lord of the Rings' is unwieldy to hold for long!

Having studied the area of Information Science - basically how to catalogue stuff, then how to re-access it, nearly all virtually - I know how easy it can be to totally lose it.

Mind you, having worked in a real library, with lots and lots of real BOOKS, I know how easy it is to 'lose' books by mis-shelving them. Though an ongoing shelf-watch programme should sort that, eventually.

As for library redesign - all open space, electronic access and spaces for exhibitions. Ok, so some of the exhibitions are interesting, but how can you stumble across new and different books if you can't actually see them, pick them up and browse? Ah well, I daresay our grandchildren will wonder what the fuss was about!
I didn't know you were a Trained Librarian, info-science people are important and I am happy to have more of them in my ambit! And I shouldn't whinge, it's perfectly possible to stumble across new and different books by virtual processes, usually blog recs; it's just a slightly different sort of happenstance.

Absolutely the only way to survive LotR hard-copy rereads is in the three-volume version, or face wrist collapse. Fact.
I miss books in libraries, I used to love wandering around the old library in Rondebosch on a Saturday morning picking out a big stack of books based on colour, quirky names or glorious cover design. I read things I would never have "known" about had I not randomly picked them up from a shelf or found them discarded in the re-shelving area. Also all the librarians…I loved all the librarians with their fanciful spectacles.

In my local council area there are five "libraries" although between them they have about half the books the one I knew growing up had. Most of the books are fairly recent and the libraries share the books, meaning 1 copy between the 5 libraries--which can mean either an annoying wait (to "order" the book in) or driving around to collect books as they never keep an entire series at one library its always split up and dispersed. It is also self-serve, occasionally you might spy a human but they are usually tinkering with the computers. I miss librarians, who worked with books. I feel sad going to the library.

The University library nearby that I sometime use..has a lot of "pods", "engagement area", "resource hubs" and "think spaces"--occasionally I find books in it…they occupy about half of the 5th floor behind an opaque wall…heaven forbid the students see a book…it might disrupt the process of their "de-structured networked learning protocol" or whatevs.